Spring is in the air, and you know what Emerson said about spring making one’s fancy turn to thoughts of love. For those of us who are disillusioned with that game and want to lose ourselves in some depressing escapism, here are some ideas for books to curl up with featuring romantic leads who just couldn’t make it work.
3. Rhett and Scarlett from Gone With the Wind. Usually when two people are torn apart and thrown back together multiples time by war, poverty, and death in a saga that spans over a decade, the reader gets the emotional satisfaction of seeing them together at the end. But these two stubborn lovers can’t get it together to admit their true feelings for each other until it’s too late. The pain of Rhett walk out the door frankly not giving a damn has been intense enough to spawn at least two fan-fic style sequels in which Scarlett finally gets him back and they make it stick, but I just don’t know if I buy it.
2. Pip and Estella from Great Expectations. OK I’m cheating a little bit here. This couple’s story ends ambiguously, and the optimists among us will certainly read Pip’s walking off into the mist hand in hand with the woman he’s loved all his life as him finally having this one in the bag, but I just don’t know. They’re both so emotionally scarred by this point, I wonder if either of them could really get anything good out of that marriage. Besides, in the original ending to the book, they parted on much more definite terms. Dickens’ first idea was for this dysfunctional couple to meet by chance in the street while Pip was taking Joe’s son out for a walk, leaving Estella to assume that he had found love and marriage with someone else and she had missed her shot with him even if she’d wanted one.
1. Nick and Jordan from The Great Gatsby. Nick and Jordan’s relationship is the quintessential argument for reading a book twice. The first time around you’re concentrating on the book’s central questions: will Gatsby win Daisy from Tom? Are the sad, empty lives led by the novels parade of flappers and bootleggers really any sadder and emptier than our lives today? Is anyone remembering to feed that poor puppy? It wasn’t until the second go-round that I really noticed the dark horse of a tragic love story that is the novel’s understated narrator and his cousin Daisy’s friend, the gin swilling, golf playing Jordan Baker. Their breakup scene is very short and easy to forget amid all the, you know, death, at the end there, but it’s actually quite sad in its own way. Nick’s final words on the matter are “Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.” We all know what it’s like to want out of relationship that once made you happy, but isn’t working anymore. It’s not a pretty sight.